by Diana Wynne Jones
read by Emma Newman
Links for this episode:
- Our Drone Future – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgLkWT246qU
- Andrew Reid – http://mygoditsraining.co.uk/
- Joan De La Haye – http://joandelahaye.com/
- Liz De Jager – http://www.lizdejager.co.uk/
- Jennifer Williams – http://sennydreadful.co.uk/
- Mhairi Simpson – https://twitter.com/AMhairiSimpson
- Adele Wearing – http://www.foxspirit.co.uk/
- Tom Pollock – http://www.skyscraperthrone.com/
- Vincent Holland-Keen – https://twitter.com/fiskerton
- The End of Science Fiction the poem quoted at the end http://www.poetryfoundation.
- This story has appeared in Stories: All-New Tales Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio
- Discuss on our forums.
- For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our sortable Wikipedia page
About the Author…
from the wiki about the author – Diana Wynne Jones (16 August 1934 – 26 March 2011) was an English writer, principally of fantasy novels for children and adults, as well as a small amount of non-fiction. Some of her better-known works are the Chrestomanci series, the Dalemark series; the novels Howl’s Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm; and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
About the Narrator…
Emma Newman is the author of the Split Worlds series published by Angry Robot Books and is also an audiobook narrator. She has her own podcast called Tea and Jeopardy which is a combination of guest interviews, geekery and abject silliness. You can find her online at www.enewman.co.uk.
by Diana Wynne Jones
Recorded on BSQ SpeekEasi Series 2/89887BQ and discovered in a skip in London’s Regent Street.
December 25th 2233
Tired today and having a lazy time. Got back late from Paris last night from Mother’s party. My sister is pregnant and couldn’t go (besides, she lives in Sweden) and Mother insisted that one of her daughters was there to meet our latest stepfather. Not that I did meet him particularly. Mother kept introducing me to a load of men and telling me how rich each of them were: I think she’s trying to start me on her own career which is, basically, marrying for money. Thanks, Mother, but I earn quite enough on the catwalk to be happy as I am. Besides, I’m having a rest from men since I split up with Liam.The gems of Mother’s collection were a French philosopher, who followed me around saying ‘La vide ce n’est pas le neant,’ (clever French nonsense meaning ‘The void is not nothing,’ I think), a cross-eyed Columbian film director, who kept trying to drape himself over me, and a weird millionaire from goodness knows where with diamante teeth. But there were others. I was wearing my new Stiltskins which caused me to tower over them. A mistake. They always knew where I was. In the end I got tired of being stalked and left. I just caught the midnight bullet train to London, which did not live up to its name. It was late and crowded out and I had to stand all the way.
My feet are killing me today.
Anyway I have instructed Housebot that I am Not At Home to anyone or anything and hope for a peaceful day. Funny to think that Christmas Day used to be a time when everyone got together and gave each other presents. Shudder. Today we think of it as the most peaceful day of the year. I sit in peace in my all-white living room—a by-product of Mother’s career, come to think of it, since my lovely flat was given to me by my last-stepfather-but-one—no, last-but- two now, I forgot.
Oh damn! Someone rang the doorbell and Housebot answered it. I know I told it not to.
Did I say we don’t give Christmas presents now? Talk about famous last words. Housebot trundled back in here with a tree of all things balanced on its flat top. Impossible to tell what kind of tree, as it has no leaves, no label to say who sent it, nothing but a small wicker cage tied to a branch with a fairly large brown bird in it. The damn bird pecked me when I let it out. It was not happy. It has gone to earth under the small sofa and left droppings on the carpet as it ran.
I thought Christmas trees were supposed to be green. I made Housebot put the thing outside in the patio, beside the pool, where it sits looking bare. The bird is hungry. It has been trying to eat the carpet. I went on the net to see what kind of bird it is. After an hour of trying, I got a visual that suggests the creature is a partridge. A game bird apparently. Am I supposed to eat it? I know they used to eat birds at Christmas in the old days. Yuk. I got on the net again for partridge food. ‘Sorry, dear customer, but there will be no deliveries until the start of the Sales on December 27th, when our full range of luxury avian foods will again be available at bargain prices.’ Yes, but what do I do now?
Oh hooray. Housebot has solved the problem by producing a bowl of tinned sweetcorn. I shoved it under the sofa and the creature stopped its noise.
Do trees need feeding?
December 26th 2233
I do not believe this! Another tree has arrived with another partridge in a cage tied to it. This time I went haring to the front door to make them take it away again, or at least make whoever was delivering it tell me where the things were coming from. But all the man did was to shove a birdcage into my hands with two pretty white pigeons in it and go away. The van he drove off in was unlabelled. I raged at Housebot for opening the door, but that does no good. Housebot only has sixty sentences in its repertoire and just kept saying, ‘Madam you have a delivery,’ until I turned its voice off.
We have had a partridge fight under the sofa.
I took the pigeon cage outside into the patio and opened it. But will those birds fly away! I seem to be stuck with them too. At least they will eat porridge oats. The partridges won’t. We have run out of tinned sweetcorn.
I give up. I’m going to spend the rest of the day watching old movies.
Liam called. I asked him if he had had the nerve to send me four birds and two trees. He said, ‘What are you talking about? I only rang to see if you’d still got my wristwatch.’ I hung up on him. Oaf.
December 27th 2233
The Sales start today! I was late getting off to them because of the beastly bird food. When I brought up Avian Foodstuffs, I found to my disgust that the smallest amount they deliver is in twenty kilo bags. Where would I put all that birdseed? I turned the computer off and went out to the corner shop. It was still closed. I had to walk all the way to Carnaby Street before I found anything open and then all the way back carrying ten tins of sweetcorn. I had promised to meet Carla and Sabrina in Harrods for coffee and I was so late that I missed them.
Not a good day. And I couldn’t find a single thing I wanted in the Sales.
I came home—my Stiltskins were killing me—to find, dumped in the middle of my living room, yet another tree with a partridge tied to it, a second cage of two white pigeons and a large coop with three different birds in it. It took me a while to place these last, until I remembered a picture book my second stepfather had given me when I was small. Under H for Hen there was a bird something like these, except that one was round and brown and gentle looking. Not these. Hens they may be, but they have mean witchy faces, ugly speckled feathers and floppy red bit on top that makes them look like some kind of alien. When I got home, they were engaged in trying to peck one another naked. The room was full of ugly little feathers. I shrieked at Housebot and then made it take the lot out into the patio, where I made haste to let the beastly hens out. They ran around cackling and pecking the partridges, the potted plants and the three trees. They were obviously hungry. I sighed and got on to Avian Foodstuffs again. Problems there. Food for which kind of bird? they queried. Hens, I tapped in. Pigeons. Partridges. They have just delivered three twenty kilo sacks. They are labelled differently, but they look suspiciusly the same inside to me. I know because I opened all three and scattered a heap from each around the patio—and another heap indoors because I have had to rescue the partridges. They all eat all kinds.
Exhausted after this. I phoned Carla and Sabrina. Sabrina was useless. She had just found some Stiltskins half price in pink and couldn’t think of anything else except should she buy them. ‘Toss a coin,’ I told her. Carla was at least sympathetic. ‘Help!’ I told her. ‘I’m being stalked by a nutter that keeps sending me birds.’
‘Are you sure it isn’t one of Liam’s practical jokes?’ Carla asked. Shrewd point. It does. He probably rang with that nonsense about his watch just to make sure I was home. ‘And haven’t you told your Housebot thingy not to let any of this livestock in?’ Carla said.
‘I have, I have!’ I cried out. ‘But the darn thing takes not the blindest bit of notice!’
‘Reprogramme it,’ Carla advised. ‘It must have slipped a cog or something.’
Or Liam reprogrammed it, I thought. So I spent an hour with the manual, pushing buttons, by which time I was so livid that I rang Liam. Got his answering service. Typical! I left an abusive message— which he probably won’t hear because of Housebot trying to clean up feathers and making the howling noise it does when it chokes—but it relieved my feelings anyway.
December 28th 2233
I spent a glorious morning at the Sales and came back with six bags of Wonderful Bargains, to find I have four parrots now. Plus one more partridge (and tree), two more pigeons,and three more of those unspeakable hens. Housebot has ignored my attempt at programming as if I’d never tried. The patio is now a small forest full of droppings. The pigeons sit on the trees and the hens rush about below. Indoors are four scuttling partridges and four of those large rings on sticks where parrots are suposed to perch. Not that they do. The red one has taken a liking to my bedroom. The green one flies about all the time, shouting swearwords, and the multicoloured two perch anywhere so long as it isn’t their official perches. I have put those in the closet because Housebot stops whenever it runs into one. I have ordered a twenty kilo sack of Avian Feed (parrots), which is actually different from the others and which the parrots mostly consume from saucers on the kitchen table. I walk about giving a mad laugh from time to time. I am inured. I am resigned.
No I am NOT!
Someone has taught those damn parrots to shout, ‘Samantha! I love you!’ They do it all the time now.
I put on my most austerely beautiful clothes and my Stiltskins and stormed round to Liam’s flat. He looked terrible. He was in his nightclothes. He hadn’t shaved or combed his curls and I think he was drunk. His flat was just as terrible. I saw it because as soon as he opened the door I marched in with Liam backing in front of me, shouting at the top of my voice. I admit that the nightclothes made me angrier still because it was obvious to me he had a woman in there. But he hadn’t actually. He was just lying about. He said, ‘Just shut up and tell me what you’re yelling about.’ So I did. And he laughed. This made me furious. I yelled, ‘You are stalking me with birds!’ and to my great surprise I burst into tears.
To my further surprise, Liam was almost nice about it. He said, ‘Now look, Sammy, have you any idea how much parrots cost?’ I hadn’t. He told me. It was a lot. ‘And before you get suspicious that I know,’ he said, ‘I only know because I did an article on them last month. Right? Since when did I have enough money for four parrots? And I don’t even know where you buy hens, let alone partridges. So it’s somebody else doing this to you, not me. He has to be a rich practical joker, and he has to know how to get at your Housebot to make it ignore your orders and let these birds in. So think around all the rich men you know and then go and yell at the likely ones. Not me.’
I gave in. ‘So I’ve walked all this way for nothing,’ I said. ‘And my feet hurt.’
‘That’s because you wear such silly shoes,’ he said.
‘I’ll have you know,’ I said, ‘that these are the very latest Stiltskins. They cost me thousands.’
He laughed, to my further indignation, and told me, ‘Then go home in a taxi.’
While I was waiting for the taxi, Liam put his arm round me—in an absent- minded way, as if he had forgotten we weren’t still together—and said, ‘Poor Sammy. I’ve had a thought. What kind of trees are they?’
‘How should I know?’ I said. ‘They haven’t any leaves.’
‘That is a problem,’ Liam said. ‘Can you do me a favour and let me know if what your stalker sends next is something quite valuable?’
‘I might,’ I said, and then the taxi came. I don’t like these latest taxis. A mechanical tab comes out of the meter that says TIP and it’s always huge. But it was probably worth it to know that Liam hasn’t been doing this to me.
December 29th 2233
Whatever idea Liam had, he was quite right! The usual tree and avians started arriving, one more partridge, more hens, more pigeons and four more parrots, noisy ones. I left Housebot, who had traitorously let them in, to deal with the darn creatures—although I have to feed the things because I can’t get Housebot to get it through its circuitry that living things have to eat: Housebot simply goes round clearing up the piles of birdseed unless I order it to stop. Anyway, I left it shunting coops and the latest tree into the patio and set off for the Sales. I was halfway down the steps outside, when a courier arrived and made me sign for a smallish package.
Someone’s sent me a book now! I thought disgustedly as I went back indoors. I nearly didn’t open it, but, because of what Liam had said, I thought I might as well. What are valuable books? I thought as I tore off wrapping. Antique Bibles? First editions of Winnie the Pooh? But it wasn’t a book. A book-sized jewel case fell on the floor. I picked that up quickly before Housebot could clear it away. I gasped a bit when I opened it. There were five rings in it, all of them very flashy and valuable-looking. One bulged with diamonds—or what looked like diamonds—and the rest looked like sapphires, emeralds and equally valuable stones, all in gold settings. And there was a note on top, not in real handwriting, if you see what I mean, but in that kind of round, careful writing that shop assistants use when you ask them to include a message. It said:
From your ardent admirer. Marry me.
‘Blowed if I will!’ I said aloud.
The rings are all too small. I think that proves it wasn’t Liam. He once bought me an engagement ring, after all, and he knows that my fingers are rather wide at the base. Unless he’s being very cunning, of course. Whoever sent the rings seems to have very flashy taste. They all reminded me so much of the kind of glass and plastic rings that people give you when you are a little girl that I took the whole case of them with me when I went out to the Sales and had them checked out by a jeweller. And they are real. I could buy five more pairs of Stiltskins if I sold them. Well!
I meant to tell Liam, but I met Carla in Oxford Street and I forgot. When I told her, she wanted to know if I was thinking of marrying the unknown stalker. ‘No way!’ I told her. ‘My mother probably would, though.’
December 30th 2233
Oh my God! I have six geese now. As well as another tree, another partridge, further pigeons, more hens, and four extra parrots (making twelve of them and bedlam). I couldn’t believe these geese. I got to the door just as a whole team of men finished handing them indoors. The last one rode in on top of Housebot. They are big birds and not friendly. At least they are too large to attack the partridges under the sofa, but five of them went out into the patio and started subduing the hens at once. The shrieks and cackling out there actually drowned out the yells from the parrots. But one goose stayed indoors and seems to have gone broody on the sofa cushions. She stretched out a long angry neck and tried to peck me when I made an effort to persuade her to join the rest outside. So there she sits, large, boatshaped and white, with her yellow beak swivelling about to make sure I don’t disturb her and her shoebutton eyes glaring unnervingly.
The only good thing about this morning was that the same courier turned up with another parcel of rings. He is a nice young man. He seems awed by me. He said hesitatingly while I was signing for the delivery, ‘Excuse me, miss, but aren’t you on that media clothes show? Catwalk?’ I saud yes, I was, but we weren’t filming at the moment. He sort of staggered away, thoroughly impressed.
The rings today are all antique fancy gold. With the same message as yesterday. Liam couldn’t have afforded any of this, even if he mortgaged his flat, his pay and his soul. I forgive him.
And I supposed I should feed the geese. I got on to Avian Foodstuffs again and they sent round a waterproof sack of slimy green nibbles. The geese don’t seem to care for them. They ate all the henfood instead. The hens protested and got gone for again. To shut them all up, I tipped out one whole sack of henfood in the corner of the patio and this just caused another furious battle. Then it rained and the geese all came indoors. The beam that opens and shuts the sliding doors to the patio is set low so that Housebot can get out there to clean the pool, and it turns out to be just goose height.
I then discovered that geese are the most incontinent creatures in the universe. My living space is now covered with lumps of excrement, and the geese waddle through it tramping it about with their large triangular feet. You interfere with them at your peril. I cracked and phoned Liam.
He said, ‘ Don’t call me. Your phone is probably bugged, if your Housebot is. Meet me at the cafe on the corner.’
How unwelcoming can you get? To make it worse, that cafe is the one where we always used to meet when we were together. But I ground my teeth, got into rainwear and went.
He was sitting outside in the rain. He looks rather good in rainwear. He had even got me the right kind of coffee. He said, ‘What is it now? Geese?’
I was flabbergasted. ‘How did you know?’
‘And five gold rings yesterday and today?’ he said.
‘Yes, but all too small,’ I said.
‘Ah,’ he said, looking pleased with himself. ‘Then you have an admirer who is not only rich but mindlessly romantic. He is sending you items from an old song—it used to be very popular two hundred years ago—called The Twelve Days of Christmas.’
‘Then whoever he is, he hasn’t a notion how angry he’s making me!’ I said.
‘The idiot thinks he’s wooing you,’ Liam said. ‘He probably belongs to one of those societies where they trail about in medieval clothes, or armour and so forth. But he’s also up to date enough to tamper with your Housebot and probably bug your phone. So think of any of the rich men you know who fit this description and then you’ll have him. Come on. Think.’
I had been trying to think. But you try thinking with a row of parrots sitting on the rail of your bed and the rest swooping about shouting that they love you. I had made no progress. I sat and watched raindrops plop into my coffee and thought hard. I do know a lot of
rich men. You do, in my trade. But they were all mostly mediamen and those are not romantic. A more cynical lot you can’t imagine. Unless I had annoyed one of them of course… And most of the clothes designers are gay.
‘Oh,’ said Liam. ‘My other conjecture is that he’s thoroughly unattractive. I suspect he’s used to having to pay a lot to get women interested. Rather pathetic really.’
I instantly thought of the truly unattractive set of fellows Mother had introduced me to on Christmas Eve. ‘That’s it!’ I cried out. ‘Bless you, Liam! I’ll phone Mother this evening.’
‘I don’t think it’s your mother doing it,’ he said.
‘No, no,’ I said and explained. He agreed that I might be on the right track and we talked it over for a while. Then he said, ‘By the way, the trees will be pear trees,’ and handed me a list. ‘So you’ll know what to expect next,’ he told me and got up and left. Just like that.
I was too angry to look at the list. I wish I had.
December 31st 2233 New Year’s Eve
I’m going to three parties today, so I’m getting out of my bird infested flat as soon as I can. But I did ring Mother. I raved at her rather. She may have thought I was insane at first, but when I calmed down and described the geese— by the way, the one on the sofa had laid an egg when I got back—she began to see I might be having real trouble. She said, in the cautious, respectful way she always talks about money, ‘Well, you might be talking about Franz Dodeca, I suppose. Not that he would do a thing like that, of course. He owns Multiphones and SpeekEasi and Household Robotics and he’s a multi- millionaire and he’s naturally very much respected.’
‘Which is he?’ I asked. ‘Of the freaks you introduced to me.’
‘Not freaks, darling,’ she said reproachfully. ‘He was the one with the charming diamante teeth.’
I thought grimly of this Dodeca, a short fat man in an unbecoming pinstriped suit. A pale freckled creature, I recalled, with thin reddish hair scraped back over his freckled scalp. He kept baring those dreadful glittering teeth at me in creepy smiles. And this idiot owns my diary, my phone and my Housebot! I hoped he swallowed one of his teeth and choked. ‘Tell him,’ I said to Mother, ‘to stop sending me birds. Tell him he hasn’t got a chance. Tell him he’s destroyed his already non-existent chances by stalking me this way. Tell him no and go away!’
Mother demurred. I could tell she was reluctant to pass up the chance of all that money in the family. But after I had told her at least ten times that there was absolutely no chance of my marrying this idiot, even if he owned the universe, she said, ‘Well, darling, I’ll phone him and try to put it tactfully.’
If she did phone dear Franz, she has had no effect. The swans arrived this morning, seven of them. Along with six more geese etcetera, etcetera. At least I got five more gold rings. They came with a note of dreadful pleading, signed ‘Your eternally loving Franz,’ which looked odd in round shop-assistant writing. I suppose Mother must have phoned the man, since he seems to know that his cover is now blown. But it doesn’t seem to have stopped him
The swans had obviously been drugged. The delivery crew carried them in big drooping armfuls, through the living room and into the patio, where they carefully wedged them into the pool. The geese waddled in after. There are now twelve of them and they’re laying eggs everywhere. As if it wasn’t enough to be overrun with hens—also laying—and a new set of green screaming parrots. The swans were just waking up when I left. Housebot tried to make me an omelette before I went and I nearly threw up.
January 1st 2234 New Year’s Day
Thank heavens! Even the Dodeca millions can’t make anyone in this country work on New Year’s Day. No further birds arrived. Nothing came. Relief! Or it would be if the swans didn’t fight the geese all the time. And I realised when I got in around four this morning that the place smells. Horribly. Of bird droppings, rotting seeds and old feathers. Housebot can’t keep up with the cleaning.
I shall have to stop wearing my Stiltskins. My feet are killing me after last night. One of my big toes has gone kind of twisted. I have very hazy memories of the fun, though I do recall that I ran into Liam at the Markham’s firework party and, besides jeering at my Stiltskins, he wanted to know if I’d consulted his list yet. I said I didn’t want to know. I told him about dear Franz too—I think. He was, I dimly remember, insistent that I throw away my phone and scrap Housebot. The man has no idea!
But this memory has made me realise that I will almost certainly get more swans and more geese tomorrow. I can’t rely on Mother to stop them. There is no more room in the patio pool. But it has occurred to me that the big house next door, which belongs to my last— stepfather-but-two, has a large garden with an ornamental as-it-were lake in it. I shall phone Stepdaddy Five. As far as I know, he’s still in a hut in Bali, recovering from having been married to Mother.
I got through to him eventually. He was, as ever, sweet about it all. ‘Isn’t that just like your mother!’ he said. ‘I know Franz Dodeca slightly. He’s a total obsessive, too rich for his own good. Come here to Bali and I’ll undertake to keep him off you.’
Well, I couldn’t do that. It strikes me as incest. Instead I asked him to lend me the garden of his house next door. He agreed like a shot and gave me the entry code at once. But he warned me that his caretaker gardener might not be pleased. He said he would phone this Mr Wilkinson and explain. ‘And keep me posted,’ he said. ‘Nothing happens here in Bali. It suits me, but I like a bit of distant action from time to time.’
January 2nd 2234
Just as well I made that arrangement with Stepdaddy Five. They brought yesterday’s swans etcetera today, plus today’s lot. Making fourteen inert, heavy floppy swans and twelve more geese. I showed the lot through Stepdaddy Five’s front door and out to the lake in his garden. The geese seemed to like it there. When the trees and the pigeons and the hens came, I showed them out there too. But the parrots had to stay with me because they were not hardy enough, they said. At least I got ten more gold rings.
We are getting seriously short of birdfood. I went round to the corner shop, but they don’t open till tomorrow. Avian Foodstuffs are on holiday for the week. Again.
I don’t believe this! The swans were not all. I was just about to cross the road from the corner shop when I saw, trudging and bawling down the street, a
whole herd of cows. Eight of them anyway. They were being driven by eight young women who, to do them justice, were looking a bit self-conscious about it. People in cars and on the pavements were stopping to stare. Some folk had followed them from Picadilly, apparently. You don’t often see cows in London these days.
My stomach felt queer. I knew they were for me. And they were. Honestly, how can this Dodeca even imagine I might want eight cows? Cows are not in the least romantic. Their noses run and they drop cowpats all the time as they walk. They dropped more cowpats through Stepdaddy Five’s nice hallway as I showed the lot of them out into his garden. I said to the girls, ‘If you want to stay, this house has fourteen bedrooms and there’s a pizza takeaway down the road. Feel free.’ I was feeling more than a little light-headed by then. The parrots don’t help.
Now it’s got worse. Mr Wikinson arrived half an hour after the cows and bawled me out for allowing a herd of cows to trample his lawn. I said I would get rid of them as soon as I could. I was going to phone Mother and extract this Dodeca’s phone number from her and then phone him and tell him to come and take his livestock away. And see how he liked it. Before I could, though, a severe woman with a mighty bosom turned up on the doorstep, saying she was from the Bird Protection Trust and that my neighbours across the street had reported me for cruelty to birds. They had, she said, counted one hundred and seven various birds being delivered to my flat— busybodies!—where they were certainly overcrowded. I was to release them to better quarters, she said, or be liable for prosecution.
After Mr Wilkinson, she was the last straw. I told her to get the hell out.
January 3rd 2234
No, the last straw was today. I did phone Mother last night and she did, after a lot of squirming, give me Dodeca’s private number. The trouble was that I didn’t know what to say, and all these parrots make it so difficult to think—not to speak of yet another swan versus goose fight erupting every five minutes. My God those birds can be vicious! Then I sat on an egg when I started to phone Dodeca and gave up. I said I’d do it today.
Today started with those cowgirls coming round here whining and whingeing. There were beds, but no sheets or blankets next door, they said, and it was not what they were used to. And where did they put the twenty gallons of milk? I said pour it away, why not? And they said it was a waste. Anyway, I got rid of them in the end, but only by ordering a stack of sheets and blankets online, which cost a bomb.
Then the bird deliveries began. By then we were almost out of birdfeed, so I ushered this lot, swans included, into Stepdaddy’s Five’s garden and raced off to the corner shop. They only had canary food, so I bought all they had of that. I was staggering towards my flat with it when I saw an entirely new sort of van drawing up and Housebot, that traitor, blandly opening my front door to it. The men in it began unloading and putting together a large number of frameworks. I crossed the road and asked them what the hell they were doing.
They said, ‘Out of the way, miss. We have to get all these into this flat here.’
I said, ‘But what are they?’ ‘Trampolines, miss,’ they said.
This caused me to bolt into my flat and race about scattering canary food and looking for that list Liam gave me. I found it just as they manoeuvered the first trampoline in. There were supposed to be nine of them. How they thought they were going to fit them in I have no idea. As I opened the list, one of the men got attacked by the broody goose on the sofa and they all went outside to let it settle down. Liam had written, ‘Ninth day: Nine lords a-leaping; Tenth day: Ten ladies dancing; Eleventh Day: Eleven pipers piping…’
I didn’t read any more. I gave a wild wail and raced into my bedroom, where all the parrots seemed to have congregated, and to shrieks of ‘I love you, Samantha,’ I packed all the parcels of rings into my handbag for safety and raced out again to the nearest public phone, praying it wouldn’t have been vandalised.
It wasn’t. I got through to Liam. ‘What is it now?’ he said grumpily.
‘Liam,’ I said, ‘I’ve got nine trampolines now. Is it really true that I’m going to get ballet dancers and skirling Scotsmen next?’
‘Pretty certainly,’ he said, ‘if you got milkmaids yesterday. Did you?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Liam, I have had enough.’
‘What do you expect me to do about it?’ he said.
‘Marry me,’ I said. ‘Take me away from all this.’
There was a dreadful, long silence. I thought he had hung up on me. I wouldn’t have blamed him. But at length he said, ‘Only if you can assure me that I’m not just an escape for you.’
I assured him, hand on heart. I told him that the mere thought of Franz Dodeca had made me realise that Liam was the only man for me. ‘Otherwise I’d get on a plane and go to my sister in Sweden,’ I said. ‘Or maybe to Bali, to Stepdaddy Five.’
‘All right,’ he said. ‘Are you coming round here at once?’
‘Quite soon,’ I said. ‘I have to fix Dodeca first.’ We then exchanged a surprising number of endearments before I rang off and raced back to my flat for what I sincerely hope was the last time.
I got back just as a minibus drove up and unloaded half a dozen fit-looking young men in scarlet robes and coronets and three more middle-aged ones, who looked equally fit. Most of them were carrying bottles of champagne and clearly looking forward to some fun. They all poured into my flat ahead of me. I had to sidle among them and past the men squeezing the last trampoline in and past several enraged geese and terrified partridges to get to my phone— a phone dear Franz was certainly bugging. While I punched in his number, the chaps all climbed on the trampolines and began solemnly bouncing up and down. One of the geese accidentally joined them. I had to put my hand over one ear to detect that I had got Dodeca’s answering service. Good.
‘Franz, dear,’ I said after the beep. ‘I’m so grateful for all the things you’ve been sending me. You’ve really gone to my heart. Why don’t you come here and join me in my flat? Come soon. And then we’ll see.’ And I rang off, with the delightful thought of dear Franz arriving and the traitor Housebot letting him in among all this.
More than all this it would be, I discovered as I left. Another herd of cows was coming down the street, lowing and cow- patting as it came. From the other direction, I could see the big lady from the Birds Protection or whatever it was, advancing. She seemed to have a police- man with her. And Mr Wilkinson was just storming out of Stepdaddy Five’s front door. I ran the other way, past the herd of cows. And who should I see but the nice courier lad just getting out of his van with a fifth parcel of rings.
I stopped him. ‘You know me, don’t you?’ I said. ‘Can I sign for them now and save you coming to my door?’ He innocently did let me and I raced away with the parcel. ‘I’ve brought you a dowry!’ I said to Liam as I arrived—
‘No, Liam, don’t! I haven’t finished yet!’
A male voice: ‘Don’t be stupid, Sam. You know he’ll be listening in. Do you want him to know where we are? I’m going to throw this away before you tell him any more.’
The diary ends here